When I was in high school, in Jasper County, Texas, DEER season opened November 16 – everywhere, as far as I knew – and ran until the last day of the year. Things were simpler then, of course. There was only DEER season, for rifles and shotguns. There was no archery season, no muzzle loader season, no special youth season, no Managed Lands Permits, and no antler restrictions – other than that the deer had to have them, as spikes and does were NOT legal to shoot. We hunted deer with hounds back then, and I loved it, because I love dogs. I enjoyed hunting coons, fox, bobcat and other varmints more, but deer hunting gave us a chance to be in the woods with our dogs – and a reason to travel the countryside looking for them after each hunt! On the other hand, corn feeders were not in use, or legal, and few hunters in East Texas, at least, sat in box stands waiting for their deer. Game cameras did not exist, nor the variety of cover and attractant scents available today. A “food plot” was an oat patch someone planted for winter graze for his cattle.
There were not nearly as many deer in this state back then as now. Many times I hear people my age and older talking about their home territory with “we hardly ever saw a deer around here back then”. Often the areas discussed are very well populated with deer in present times. Newer “management” practices are often given credit for the rebound in whitetail numbers, although I think fewer full time rural residents who hunt for food as well as tradition might be part of the situation. We hear a lot about high fence properties and deer breeding, but a lot of deer exist outside those environments. The 2011 deer harvest was down due to drought conditions, but still numbered some 574,808 animals – 309,207 bucks, 265, 601 antlerless. The 2010 numbers were 647,975 deer, of which 336,550 deer were bucks. The state’s 11 year average is 574,423 total deer, with a low year of 512,852. Even considering that nearly half these deer were antlerless, and therefore illegal when I was a kid, that’s still a lot of venison! TP&WD figures Texas has the largest deer herd in the nation, numbering 3.3 million animals.
As far as “trophy” bucks, the average B&C score for the state for 6 1/2 year old bucks is around 125. In South Texas that goes up to 135, while in the “Eastern Rolling Plains” it runs about 130. Antler restrictions have skewed these numbers somewhat, with the majority of counties requiring a buck have a 13 inch outside spread to be legal. I am not a big fan of this rule, as I fear it results in a lot of illegal deer being left in the woods, since it is fairly difficult to accurately estimate the width of antlers on a moving animal at an estimated range. Some folks claim to do it easily, but a lot of them think they can also accurately determine the age of a buck from a casual glance. Personally, I just don’t believe it’s that easy. Also, if someone does screw up and shoot a buck with a smaller than legal rack, admitting it to a warden gets them the same fine as if they had shot it on purpose and tried to sneak it home.
Bow season opened in most counties September 29, and runs until November 2. This gives those wishing to kill a deer with a sharp stick a chance to try them before they get shot at a lot. The “Special Youth -Only Season” consists of two early days – October 27-28, and the “late” period from January 7 – 20. This “Special” season is not for “Special” youths only, just those under 16 years of age. In counties where the general regulations apply, does are legal without a special permit from opening day until the Sunday following Thanksgiving (Nov. 3 – 25). Many counties in South Texas also have a late antlerless season after the general rifle season, and in the Muzzleloader-Only season, which runs from Jan. 7 – 20, does are also legal.
The deer bag limit in Brazoria County, as in most counties under general regulations in the “North Zone” is 4 deer, no more than 2 bucks, no more than 2 antlerless. In some areas, hunters on “managed” properties are allowed, even encouraged, to shoot large numbers of does.
I completely stopped deer hunting for many, many years, because in my younger days I looked at the declining numbers of animals and the increasing numbers of people and expected deer to soon be extinct. My feeling was that there just weren’t enough deer to go around, and I ceded my share to others, while I went fishing for 30 years. In retrospect, it appears I was wrong, and I am glad. Deer are beautiful creatures, and the Texas country- side is much more attractive with them in it.